Project Schedules, Hamster Wheels, and Your Team's Hidden Superpower
"Failing to plan is planning to fail," - some sources attribute this saying to Winston Churchill, while others refer to Benjamin Franklin, or Alan Lakein, author on time management. Whoever the author really was, his succinct wisdom could help many project managers avoid costly mistakes. It seems that there are many project teams who suffer from inaccurate plans and their consequences. In fact, this challenge ranked as no.3 in the list of the biggest productivity killers, according to our recent survey. In this post, I'll observe some ways to keep your team safe from this threat and make sure your project's timeline is accurate. Note: This is the third post in a series on fighting productivity killers. In case you’ve only plugged into this discussion, don’t miss the two previous productivity battles against interruptions and procrastination. Keeping project plans up-to-date is especially difficult if you’re the sole hub for collecting updates from the team and then communicating the changes to them. The more agile your project management approach is, paired with a volatile outside environment, the more challenging this job is. Trying to slow down the outside world will not be any more helpful than trying to ask the weather to be more predictable. The work isn't much fun if by the time you finish merging the latest updates into the plan and send it out, it's already outdated. One option is to manage your project with outdated plans, which is detrimental to the business and potentially your career. The other option is trying to use current plans but really you are running a hamster wheel marathon of pulling updates non-stop and still getting nowhere. Is there something else? You bet. The moment you chose to read this blog post over a Dilbert cartoon, you knew there has to be an answer, a jiu-jitsu move that embraces the facts as they are, and turns what could be a problem into an advantage. The bigger your team is, the more status updates you have, which makes your job harder. However the larger your team is, the more minds and hands are at your service to keep track of it all. As with many other things in management, the answer is in delegation. Work out a setting where instead of you being the hub and bottleneck of all project updates, pass the role of the hub to a tool, like a collaborative planning software or a board on the wall (well, I don't really recommend writing on physical walls in the era of smartphones and global teams, but I had to give you the choice, right?). So now, with that central hub available to all team members 24x7, if a person has an update, they don't have to pass it through you. Instead, the person can deliver it directly to the hub and others have direct access to this latest info, for when they need it. You still need to keep an eye on work progress, as well as coordinate, lead and teach, but leading and doing everything yourself are very different roles. The former is a critical factor in project success, and the latter is a bottleneck to all and a stress-generating machine to you. Delegating planning to your team members has a powerful effect on the psychological side. If the deadlines weren't imposed by the manager, but the employee set them on his own, he naturally feels more responsibility and more motivation for getting it done on time. Now, as with many other great things in life, it's easier said than done. Collaborative planning not only requires you to change your habits, but also the habits of your team. A team habit that is essential for collaborative planning is the culture of sharing. For more detailed insights into how to build this culture, check out my recent post dedicated to this topic. Also, if you are looking for some tips on how to introduce a new habit to your team, there was a post about that, as well. If you have adopted the centralized hub for planning, but your plans are still outdated, the problem is either with the tool or with its adoption amongst your team. You could use some jiu-jitsu in this area as well - instead of fighting with existing habits, you can sometimes leverage them in a creative way. For example, at Wrike we built convenient email add-ons that let your team update tasks right from Outlook/Mac Mail/Gmail. This uses email to your (and everyone's) benefit and helps with keeping project planning up-to-date. Another example of a creative approach is turning your "project hub" from a passive store for information into an acting agent (now you see why software is better than walls) - it can ping your team when they need to work on something, it can generate reports for you, it can even buzz a mobile phone or send a message when something interesting has changed. That does not just save your time, but it also helps to engage everyone. What are your thoughts? What other productivity enemies did you face in your team and how did you fight them off?
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